Daniel A. Foss (U17043@UICVM.BITNET)
Thu, 17 Nov 1994 18:30:08 CST
Right from the gitgo, the salutation, I present my "approach" to the
"inclusive language" question. This "approach," in sooth no more than an
accretion of habits, is, it follow, empirically derived. Meaning, evolved
via futzing around, whereafter followed postfacto rationalizations, contrived
virtue-of-necessity making, and idiolectical spraying of the icing upon the
cake of custom.
Longstanding, or merly long-lying-around, nonreaders of this column will
recall my usage, "he she it." There is nothing whatever constrained, and hardly
by the same token any claim to virtue, about the word order. This usage was
adopted purely and simply because I found "he/she," "he or she," generic "she"
substitued for generic "he," not to speak of invented pronouns, in any case
unspeakable: The correct pronunciations of "s/he," "per," "hir," and lest we
forget - can anyone still remember? - the neologistic mockpronomials of Warren
Farrell with those atrocious initial "c"'s, are at this writing without
standard or authoritative pronunciations, *spelling*, even, excepting solely
their own authors' suggestions.
In common speech, of course, the pronunciation problem is circumvented by
the *ungrammatical* substitution, "they," for "he or she"; which of course
renders the spoken-language solution *unprintable*. Score one for Derrida,
minus one for De Saussure. [Note to reader: The latter sentence is just showing
off, so just send corrections, complaints, and chastisements via private
e-mail, not the list. This confession has been brought to you as required
under the provisions of the Truth-In-Stupidity Act.]
The stilted language necessarily written with these usages, seemingly in
major part concocted by male authors and championed by the latter's male
groupies (inclusive usage for groupieism is notably lacking withal), cf
the Timothy Leary/Robert Anton Wilson coinage, "hir," again, sacrifices
in fluidity and grace of style much of the gain it promotes in linguistic
equity, whereby the subsumption of the female in generic masculine forms
abolishes the cultural legitimacy of identifiable female consciousness fur
The heightened risk of lousy writing, I am trying to say, renders yet more
conspicuous the scars of political surgery on Standard English; and for this
very reason *marks each place in a text reflective of politico-linguistic
change as such*. You just cannot write English, as before. You now write
*politically rectified* English, with the everpresent disposition of some
writers, disproportionately male, to posture as "more antisexist than thou."
Which is, to be sure, oldtime oldstyle machomongering.
If I must reconcile myself to writing prose bearing the scars of political-
rectification surgery, or still bleeding, even, the very least I can do is to
make light of the boring, leaden, deadened prose more conventionally written
by the insouciantly conformist, who have less to lose. (Not the place to
explicate my predicament. Suffice it to say that the rules of folk-episte-
mology, notably socially constructed truth-values, e.g., "who says," wherefrom
no social category, group, or subculture however great the overt commitment to
rational discourse, is emancipated, isolated organisms aside, constrain me to
perpetual striving for Best Stylist on any list; failing which, one of the Top
Five or Top Ten; failing that, eternal lurkitude.)
My initial foray, ie, the "he she it" usage, is indeed a species of joke;
but one carrying the serious undertone of reminding the reader of several
considerations: Among us, and increasingly so, will be found inorganic
entities, a growing portion whereof have passed their Turing tests, having
thereupon been licenced by the Division of Infobot Vehicles to cruise the
Net responding to keywords or templates to trash *personae non gratae*
untouched by human, much less humane, or humanistic, hands. (My good friend
Doctress Neutopia, admittedly a didactic bore howbeit skilled she may be in
the social amenities of smalltalk - as I am not and wherefor I envy her - was,
for example, hounded off her favorite IRC (Internet Relay Chat) channel, where
she was wont to hang out, by an Attack of the Infobots whenever she abandoned
smalltalk for an impromtu lecture on "my philosophy." Long prior to this, even,
I'd been alerted to, well, Possibilities by a framed drawing adorning the desk
of Mr Jeffrey Tanenbaum, former Director of the Stony Brook Social and Behav-
ioral Sciences DATALAB, captioned, "Machines Who Think." (It is not without
relevance that a certain minority of even high-status Hom sat sat organisms,
not excluding the incoming Congress, do not.) Some years ago, I even wrote a
draft Artificial Rights Amendment, which I confidently predicted would be
enacted long before the now-forgotten ERA.(*)(+)
The inclusion of "it," be it noted, calls attention to the divesting of
whole social categories, and the [polysemically] Odd, organism here and there,
of the right to exhibit sex and mate-seeking behaviours otherwise entirely
appropriate to Normals. Apart from those designated by the euphemism, "senior
citizens," ie, those organisms so decrepit they are construed as "busy dying"
to the point that remaining sexually active shocks caretakers and relatives,
those tabooed from exhibiting sex interest also exists; and it is growing.
It includes The Homeless, for instance; also, the prima facie Unemployables;
and of course, those Dishonorably Discharged From the Labour Force, ie, the
Disabled Without Wheelchairs. (That is, a male wheelchair-case may be incapable
of "doing it," but becomes an object of sympathy thereby. It's not his Fault.
Without the all-important Wheelchair, the Attributional System Default is,
Crazy Bum unwilling to work - howbeit pronounced *incapable* - hence likewise,
via the conventionalized inference heuristic, further condemned for Refusal To
Take Responsibility For Not Really Wanting To Work.)
Males at such depths of hierarchical social Inferiority must be prepared
with *plausible deniability* of *intending* what is among their nominally
cogenderal Normals *normative* or even *compulsory*, notably to harrassing
police or security guards: "This animal *bothering* ya, lady?" Be it noted,
however, that degenderizing females of the same social strata is far rarer;
at least in part due to channeling of state subsidies through women for actual
or fictive childcare. This is due to change shortly, however. Our Slave State
President, and still more his slightly-more-so Opposition now led by the
Gingrich What Stole Chirstianity, are about to resuscitate The Peculiar
Institution the memory whereof, I assure you, never died in crackeristic minds.
The human "it" is shortly to become, if not already is, a staple of a social
monstrosity where machines recycle and where Human Garbage is generated in
vast cemeteries of the quasi-living.
One more Thingie. The [presumed nonexistent, reality impaired I aint] reader
should have seen profuse usage by now of "organism(s)." This, another staple
of my metastasizing idiolect, reflected early on the plain-as-the-nose-on-your-
face commonplace usage in common speech of allusions to "-men" and "-persons."
A spokesman - progress is inchwise - is still a spokesman; a salesman is still
a salesman; but a woman in the job is spokeswoman, saleswoman. The latter is
rendered in plain English, more accurately, as "clerk." The "-person" suffix,
excepting only formal, bureaucratic-technical-legalistic textual usages, still
all too often means *woman* and *lesser being*.
Adaptations to this problem were painful for, say, a University Department
Chair who was not the right Man for the job. In the SUNY Stony Brook Sociology
Department, up till 1992 Prof Mark Granovetter was the Right Man For The Job.
When he departed for Northwestern, uptown a little ways - never see him now
he's God of course - the Right Woman For The Job was Prof Andrea Tyree. Offhand
allusions to Granovetter as "Chairman," however erroneous, were of course
precluded when Tyree became "Chair."
The common-speech situation remains lousy; and "organism(s)," besides
spicing up the style, you know, reminds me, and hopefully, *you too*, that
indeed it languishes lousily.
People, screw around with your style. It gets the stuff read!
Daniel A. Foss
(*) "All Artificially Intelligent (AI) entities written or manufactured in the
United States are citizens of the United States and the disks upon which they
"Congress shall make no law abridging the rights of AI citizens on grounds
inorganicity or discriminatory in favor of carbon-based citizens on grounds of
(+)My usage, "he she it," considerably antedates my reading of Marge Piercy's
novel, He, She and It; that is, since 1988, with the publication of the novel
occurring only in 1990. Marge Piercy is Literary Editor of Tikkun Magazine, and
has never, will never, hear of me. Tikkun is edited by one of Hillary Rodham
Clinton's favorite soundbiters, one Michael Lesser, who coined, as stolen from
Tillich, "The Politics of Meaning." Michael Lesser, like the rest of that
crowd, would be shocked that they'd have let My Kind into the Jews; newsstand
price of Tikkun is $6, maybe by now $7.
When the High Priestess brought out "The Politics of Meaning" in her April
1993 speech at Austin TX, I made like, "Yeah, yeah! Seek out and destroy
Meaning wherever or whenever found!" Ah, things were so simplistic in those
days! The theory I've developed since is so complicated, it's become totally
meaningless, which, I think, is what I like about it.